Playing in the soil is one of the many joys for 6-year-old Kendall Rae Johnson. The seed was planted at the early age of 3 when Georgia’s youngest certified farmer grew a green thumb and love for agriculture.
The cultivation began with her great-grandmother, Laura "Kate" Williams. “Once my grandmother was able to have that talk with Kendall and be a part of her life, she instilled all those great things in her. It was amazing. Kendall just picked it up and ran with it,” said Kendall’s mother, Ursula Johnson.
It all took root on a small patio porch, where Kendall and her great-grandmother planted seeds of cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes and broken collard green stems. This experience fascinated Kendall, sparking her interest in growing fruits and vegetables in her own backyard.
“We try to bring Kendall’s creative ideas to the forefront,” said her father, Quentin Johnson.
For that reason, he and his wife built a larger garden bed on their property in South Fulton, Georgia, when Kendall was 4 years old to give her more space to grow.
Today, Kendall’s garden contains an array of produce, including tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini and her favorite, carrots. For her, agriculture is all about sharing fresh and healthy foods with her community and neighborhood friends, who enjoy helping harvest her garden.
“More friends mean more plants means more fruits and vegetables for my community,” Kendall said, happily.
Her enthusiasm for agriculture evolved into Kendall and her parents forming a partnership with Fort Valley State University. Kendall is the youngest member of FVSU’s Cooperative Extension 4-H Youth Development Program.
In recognition of Kendall, many gathered to honor her on Earth Day in South Fulton. Among the group were FVSU agriculture leaders and local, state and national dignitaries from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) like Dr. Jewel Bronaugh, deputy secretary of agriculture, and Terry Cosby, chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
“We are looking forward to all the wonderful things stored inside of you,” Bronaugh told Kendall.
During the ceremony, Kendall received accolades, including a NRCS pin and USDA certificate of appreciation presented by Cosby, 4-H Charter by the USDA and FVSU, and a proclamation (making it her third) by Congresswoman Nikema Williams, U.S. House of Representatives 5th Congressional District of Georgia.
Also, FVSU 4-H'er Janya Green, who is the recipient of the 2020 4-H Youth in Action Pillar Award for Agriculture, passed the torch to Kendall, emphasizing that she is making the world a better place. She encouraged Kendall to follow her passion.
Woodie Hughes Jr., FVSU’s assistant Extension administrator state 4-H program leader, said FVSU is presenting its first-ever Cooperative Extension 4-H Urban Positive Youth Development Program as a result of the partnership with Kendall, her parents and adult 4-H volunteers. Hughes, Dr. Ralph Noble, dean of the College of Agriculture, Family Sciences and Technology, and Dr. Mark Latimore Jr., Extension administrator, extended their support for this newly established 4-H program, which is history made in Georgia and worldwide.
The Fort Valley State University Cooperative Extension 4-H Urban Positive Youth Development Program was officially launched on Earth Day, April 22, in Atlanta. The new program will create positive youth and adult community partnerships, healthy habits and outdoor hands-on experiential learning opportunities for Agri-STEM education transfer, all within the context of 21st century challenges and opportunities. Through the Kendall Rae Green Heart Charter, Kendall will teach other youths 4-H agriculture and healthy habits life skills as an FVSU 4-H Healthy Habits Ambassador.
“Kendall achieved the honor of receiving a USDA/FVSU Cooperative Extension 4-H Charter due to her hard work, sacrifices, strong community and school support, national support and her accomplishments at such a young age,” Hughes said. “During the 2022 National Week of Agriculture on March 23 at the Georgia State Capitol, Kendall was recognized as the youngest certified farmer in Georgia and Georgia Ag Hero of the Year on Georgia Ag Hero Day.”
Noble said starting an urban agriculture program was on the horizon, but Kendall helped FVSU get there faster.
“It is an area of interest from various people in the Atlanta area requesting that FVSU make a larger presence in the urban areas around urban agriculture issues,” Noble said. “We look forward to the existing partnership with USDA. This is just the beginning.”
To view more about Kendall and her partnership with FVSU, check out this video by ATL26, https://youtu.be/64iJAPsavvw.